Chechens, Maybe, Unarmed?

by Joshua Foust on 5/19/2011 · 7 comments

Christian Bleuer reinforces my skepticism of Chechen mania:

Chechens have been reported en masse by the media – much to the annoyance of Registan and the angry folks at Kavkaz Center. But still, no Chechens – no online martyr tribute, no name, no documents, no Chechen prisoners, nothing. I’ll be shocked if the “Chechens” killed a couple of days ago in Pakistan actually turn out to be ethnic Chechens. I’ll keep an open mind, but past reporting has all come and gone with no confirmation.

While I appreciate being lumped in with the Chechen insurgency’s propaganda wing, there’s a bit more to this.

The local Pakistani security forces claim to have found Russian passports amongst the attackers, which is a good indication they were Chechen (Chechens have been issues Russian passports for a while, though they can get “Chechen” passports if they try really hard). These passports supposedly had valid visa stamps for Iran, which… may or may not mean anything. Iran is sort of a smuggling corridor, so they could have sneaked through. I’m not sure why they’d need a visa, though (and I refuse to engage in “Iran is the root of all evil” conspiracy mongering like some CENTCOM desk officer).

The Russians, however, deny any knowledge that the dead are, in fact, citizens of Russia.

“We asked Pakistan’s foreign and interior ministries to provide official information on whether the dead militants had Russian passports. At the moment, there has been no official response,” Yaroslav Pavlov of the Russian embassy’s consular department said.

There’s another angle: What if those dead Chechens were unarmed when they were shot? That’s certainly what at least one eye witness is claiming:

“They raised their hands as a gesture of surrender but law enforcement personnel opened indiscriminate fire at them,” witness Irfan Khan alleged.

A private TV channel telecast the shooting by security personnel and an injured woman waving her hand and pleading with them to stop firing.

This doesn’t mean they actually were unarmed, intended no harm, and weren’t trying to do something. But it does raise the usual questions about the reliability of the Pakistani security services, and shows just how little we should depend on the first wave of news to make judgments about these things. Because just as often as not, they are flat out wrong.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Alan May 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

At the risk of over complicating, just having a Russian passport is not “a good indication they were Chechen.” There are a multitude of ethnicities in the North Caucasus that have become radicalized and they would all travel on Russian documents. For example, of the 5 Russian citizens that were involved in the August Dushanbe jail break, 4 were Dagestani and 1 was Avar.

I would also add that not all jihads are created equal, and its not unfathomable that more radical jihadists would leave the northern Caucasus in order to battle the world’s lone superpower, a fight which in the grand jihadi scheme is more important than what is happening in Russia. Such an argument that they wouldn’t is as ridiculous as the one people frequently make about the IMU. Mainly because the IMU’s chief target (or at least it was 10 years ago) is Karimov and the Uzbek govt, we never need to worry about them becoming operational against the governments in Tajikistan or Af/Pak.

The fact is however until someone turns into a dumping ground for classified information, we’ll have to rely on second and third hand reporting. Therefore accepting every media report from South Asia about Chechen fighters as gospel is probably about as useful as ripping each one apart.

Joshua Foust May 20, 2011 at 11:56 am

Those are all good comments, and you’re right.

I do have to note that it’s hilarious to see the eventuality with which you view becoming a dumping ground for classified information 🙂

Pakistani May 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

Russians or not, terrorist or not, all humans should be given respect and dealt as per law and no Pakistani law allows killing of unarmed persons. Federal and Provincial Govt.s have launched investigations on the incident and its a welcome step.
True the Pak is in tense environment and security forces are under pressure by suiside attacked etc but that still do not give any one license to kill when suspects were not armed and threatening.

Norbert May 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

It would be easy to find out if someone could publish an image of the passports in sufficient resolution, since Russian passports mention the ethnicity of the holder and the place of issue.

alah govnoed May 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Отличная новость! Побольше бы таких новостей. Надо отправлять этих тварей к своему сраному алаху пачками. дети говноедов, вырезать тварей

Karfagen May 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Idi naxuy gavno ebannoe… Suka za monitorom pizdet ne v reale ebalom welkat’? Xorowo, cto ty znaesh, cto ty prostoi russkiy pidaras..

Christian May 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm

@norbert I believe Russia removed the reference to ethnicity (natsionalnost) from passports in 1997. A quick search for ‘pyataya grafa’ should clear that up.

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